What Many Modern Christians Overlook
When Reading John 3:16
by John Hendryx
When proclaiming the Gospel, how should believers call attention to God's part in the salvation of unbelievers? What do they need to know and how much? To our credit, we will correctly speak of the responsibility of the unbeliever to repent and place their faith in the person and finished work of Christ on the cross, since He alone fulfilled God's covenant from our side by obeying all His commands. But should God's sovereignty in salvation be a part of the message we proclaim? That God alone saves from beginning to end with no contribution whatsoever from sinful man? That without Divine grace, man does not even have the desire, inclination or ability to turn to God in faith? Is this even a part of the Gospel? The best answer, of course, is to see what the Scriptures say about this. Time and again, I have found, Jesus and the apostles hit on two important topics when they explain salvation to unbelievers: the pattern almost always includes (1.) God's command to repent and believe and (2.) man's moral inability to do so. A simple example is Jesus' discussion with Nicodemus in the familiar passage (which includes) John 3:16:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
This verse explains what God did and what He requires of man to be saved. Fairly straight forward, and many end their presentation here, but Jesus isn't finished yet... look just two verses later where ( in the same breath as John 3:16), Jesus says:
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (v. 19, 20)
So in addition to declaring eternal life to whoever believes, verse 19-20 equally declare that man "love[s] darkness" and "DOES NOT come into the light" (some translations read "will not"). It is clear that the affection of all fallen men for sin is greater than their affection for God, but now look what Jesus further says in the next verse:
But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. (Emphasis mine)
"Wrought by God" not by man (i.e. what is impossible with man: faith and repentance, due to man's love of darkness, is possible with God) --- Apart from this gracious work of God all men hate the light of God and will not come to him lest their evil be exposed -- this is the rebellion of mankind without the grace of God. "No one seeks for God...There is no fear of God before their eyes!"
So here you see that Jesus openly teaches both man's responsibility and his moral inability even in the most famous gospel presentation in the Scriptures.1 Note: Moral inability differs from physical inability in that a man would not be condemned if his inability to come to God was merely due to a physical handicap. Moral inability is like a man who owes a great debt that cannot be repaid. Although he is responsible to honor his debt he does not have the wherewithal to do so. That is our position before God prior to the Holy Spirit applying the new birth. Man owes a debt he cannot repay, but he is still responsible for it. In other words, we are required to have faith in Christ but our love for darkness and hatred for God keep us from doing so. Satan has blinded the mind of unbelievers and has taken them captive to do his will so God must grant them repentance (2 Tim 2:25, 26) if they have any hope of being saved. Thus Jesus does teach the total depravity (moral inability) of man and the unconditional sovereignty of God in salvation when he speaks to unbelievers about salvation.
Seen in this light Jesus' seemingly cryptic language about the new birth and the wind, earlier in the passage, now begins to make sense:
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. "Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."
This means faith is not produced by our fallen unregenerated human nature. Flesh, of itself, has neither the desire nor ability to give itself the new spiritual birth. Only Spirit can give birth to spirit. And the Spirit is sovereign on whom He bestows this merciful gift. These concepts are constantly reiterated in Scripture, usually in the same breath. So to conclude, ending a Gospel presentation with John 3:16 without proclaiming the entire concept expressed in John chapter three is a failure to teach the whole counsel of Scripture and an inadequate partial gospel at best. If anyone is interested in further investigating whether this is really the biblical pattern, below I have included a chart which shows many other examples of this concept in the Bible:
Chart with More Biblical Examples of this Pattern:
Responsibility, Inability and Monergistic Grace (Chart With Paradoxical Texts Reconciled)
Back to Home Page